Inspired by Betty Londergan's What Gives 365 and the Bible (not necessarily in that order!), I'm giving away $250 a week in 2011.

This is where I'm recording that journey, and I hope you'll come along for the ride.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Finish Line

Have you ever reached the end of something, only to discover that the finish line is merely the starting line for another leg of the journey? I felt that way when I graduated from high school, and eventually with my PhD. I'm feeling it again today.

Admittedly, I have not taken enough time to reflect on just what this giving journey has taught me. A few initial lessons come to mind:

- Giving money away responsibly takes more effort than one might think. I didn't always put in the research and reflection time required.
- Spreading gifts widely but thinly is an approach to giving with distinct advantages and disadvantages
- People's reactions to this project were mixed and interesting. They ranged from immediate enthusiasm to taking offense to lobbying for their cause to indifference - and I'm sure many others I wasn't aware of.
- Once the money was already 'spent in my head', giving it away was easy
- I did and didn't want people to engage in conversation with me about this. At times I was craving more 'traffic' and other times I just didn't want to bother thinking about it anymore.
- I'm not sure this has transformed me into a real blogger, but I suspect I'll occasionally miss it.

I appreciate how this process has sensitized me to needs in my community and around the world. It's broadened what I've been reading. It's gotten me back in the habit of generosity, but hasn't really required much sacrifice. It hasn't been as contagious to my children as I'd hoped it would be, but perhaps to a few other people at least...

As my husband and I discuss what's next for us in terms of learning to give, we are paying close attention to some of these lessons. What needs have come to our attention that we are well placed to meet? How might we focus our giving more strategically? How can we do more than write a cheque? What might this mean for our whole family?

No firm answers or plans yet. I am waiting to learn from a couple of upcoming trips to Africa - one to Lesotho in March that friends are taking, and a second to Kenya and Tanzania in July that I hope to take with my daughter. Needs will become obvious to us through those and I want to be open to responding generously. I'm also curious if we will end up playing a larger role with a program called Baby Smarts that I've recently begun facilitating in local high schools through Beginnings Family Services. It talks about healthy relationships, slowing down decision making, understanding what parenthood requires, and lots of other important issues for teens. Seems like a great fit for our family and a program with lots of room for growth.

For now, this week's final donation is going to the Benevolent Fund at our church. The fund is used to provide for people in our congregation and community who find themselves unexpectedly in financial need. These funds are Truly needed. They're applied to local needs in a compassionate, immediate and practical way, with little concern for overhead costs or 'overthinking.' I could use a dose of that right now.

To those of you who have faithfully read this blog and/or encouraged me along the way, I sincerely thank you. I hope Just Giving It has been an inspiration to you in some way. May you have not only a happy new year, but a prosperous and generous one as well.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Down Syndrome - and Merry Christmas!

I'm in the midst of Christmas rushing, but didn't want to be late (again!) with my weekly post.

This week, I'm following up on a suggestion made by my friend Christine. She's actually engaged to my cousin Cam -- does that make her my soon-to-be-cousin-in-law? -- and she volunteers on the Board of the Down Syndrome Association of Peterborough.

I admire Christine for lots of reasons. In this case, she's on this Board not because she's been directly affected by having a family member with Downs, but because she is passionate about kids and good health, and wanted to find a way to put down some roots in her new community of Peterborough. She then made an effort to find me at our large family Christmas gathering and tell me why she's so impressed with this organization. That impressed me.

I also happen to know a few people who have been directly, and/or "almost", affected by Down Syndrome recently. And I have had two lovely encounters with strangers with Downs in the past while too.

So on this second last week of the blog, I'm thrilled to support Christine and the organization she's thrown her support behind.

I rather wish this were more of a Christmas-y post. It is in its rushed-ness perhaps. (How sad!) Do know that it comes with sincere wishes for a very blessed, and restful and quieter, Christmas for each of you.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Focus, Stewardship and Hope. Welcome Home.

With thanks for your patience, here's the plan for this week's donation to an inspiring individual, and some other musings along the way.

This week I will be contributing toward Sharon Schmidt's trip to visit refugee camps in Africa. Sharon is a friend of a friend of mine. She is the Program Director of Welcome Home, a refugee housing community in Kitchener, Ontario. Out of a desire to understand the refugee experience more fully, she is planning this trip for next March. Here is an excerpt of how my friend describes Sharon:

"She has really helped people like me see that refugees are a lot like us. While they tend to be grouped with other needy people in our society, refugees actually have less in common with the mentally ill and the unemployed. Instead, they are often middle or upper class people whose lives are entirely disrupted by war and civil war -- and who find themselves in Canada, starting all over again. Sharon regularly recognizes the ways in which she can't begin to understand the refugee experience, and it has been her dream for four or five years to visit a refugee camp in Africa...She is definitely an inspiring person."

I've seen how my friend's life -- her time, parenting, spending -- have been impacted by Sharon's work, and it is my pleasure to invest in that impact in this small way. Have a look at Sharon's blog if you get a chance.

Yet even as I write this, I am given reason to pause at this week's choice. Three things have been jostling around in my head and I will try to make some sense of them here:

1. I've been reading Do More Than Give. Slowly. I haven't been allowing myself to read further quite yet, actually, because I'm stuck on an early chapter about the need to target one's giving rather than spreading philanthropy too thinly. Clearly this year for us has been about spread. As January approaches, what might that mean for our giving patterns? I've never been good at focusing -- I have an interdisciplinary PhD of all things! -- yet it appeals to me very much at the moment. I suspect that those who are single-minded do not waste much time, as I do, thinking about all the other ways they could be spending their resources. I'm not sure what form targeted giving should take for us. (And I've seen the joy that can come from a small but needed and unexpected gift given in many directions at once). I'm therefore grateful for the authors' encouragement to learn from the journey and let the focus emerge.

2. I've been thinking about poverty, personal responsibility and stewardship. If I am made aware of people who are in need (as I have been recently), should I give to them to meet that need even if I know that they have a history of poorly managing the resources entrusted to them? Likely many people experiencing poverty have a less-than-impressive track record of financial management. Are these particular people therefore being "penalized" because I know them better? Does the fact that I do know them well obligate me even more to give? At a bigger picture level, to what extent is my giving supposed to be tied to the recipients' "performance"? We expect accountability in charitable organizations (and are expected to do so), yet is it reasonable to expect the same from individuals? Is it poor stewardship or miserliness not to? My reluctance here has caught me off guard, to the point that I'm wondering what I'm really afraid of.

3. Just this morning, our pastor spoke about Jesus being the hope of the world. Not just hope for eternal life (which He is), but hope for the here and now. He put it in these terms: how would the world look different if Christmas had never happened? No churches, no Christians. No World Vision. No Salvation Army. No William Wilburforce. The most memorable part for me was an excerpt he read from the CBC's Brian Stewart -- a renowned foreign correspondent [and agnostic], who was addressing the graduating class at a Presbyterian college a few years ago. He remarked that he has never been anywhere in the world where Christ followers haven't gotten there first -- to respond, care, serve, make a difference. And he's been to some very remote places! I felt proud to be counted among their number when I heard that.

I don't know if these three threads will weave together or not -- soon, or ever. For now, I'm letting them percolate within me (how's that for a mixed metaphor!) and giving the money to Sharon. She is obviously a person of focus, who looks poverty unflinchingly in the face and who is committed to making a difference. When the threads don't knit together neatly in my life, it's inspiring to hear of others who are finding ways to make that happen. And I suspect that for them, it feels messy too. I guess it's just good to be on the journey together.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Why are Third Fridays so hard?

If you've been joining us for awhile on this journey, you'll know that the third Friday of each month is designated for an inspiring individual. It's proven to be the hardest week of the month to figure out where to give. That always vaguely discourages me. So here I am at the last one, and I'm still struggling. So for all of you faithful readers out there, stay tuned. I haven't forgotten to blog today. I'm just puzzling over some things and need a bit more time.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Mustard Seed

I flew to Calgary last weekend and thoroughly enjoyed 8 hours of movie and TV watching on the plane while knitting. I didn't particularly enjoy having to watch ads before each program. Until a particularly powerful one caught my eye.

It was for The Mustard Seed. I'd never heard of them before, but interestingly, their name came up in conversation at the dinner table the following night, with friends of ours who live in Calgary.

In exploring their website further this week, I was impressed, even by the dignity of the language they use. They serve men and women experiencing homelessness and poverty, through providing basic care, housing, employment and addiction recovery services. They are excited about "the power of community to create sustainable change." They follow Jesus.  What started as a coffee house ministry in a church basement has now grown to be Alberta-wide.Having done research into both homelessness and social enterprise recently, I was especially intrigued.

Have a look at A Day in the Life of The Mustard Seed, filmed this Fall. Check out their 10 People Like You campaign. Powerful stuff.

For those in the Guelph area, the Adopt-A-Family program of the Children's Foundation is still looking for people to provide about 40 Christmas hampers to families in need. We've had fun as a family being involved in this program. Call them!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Khoorie Heritage Trust, messily

I continue to be so fascinated by how things come together, and by what this giving journey is teaching me.

This week's entry is a hard one to write, and once again, it's all about timing. This week, Attawapiskat has been very much in the news, with its abysmal housing, poor drinking water and struggling residents, and the federal government's decision to assume third party management of its finances. I admit that when I heard the Chief being interviewed, I was pretty frustrated, but a bit embarrassed at feeling that way. Roughly ninety million dollars of taxpayers' money has been poured into that community over the past five years, to support a community of about 5,000 people, and she had the gall to be angry that the government is stepping in? The left-leaning sociologist in me knows very well the legacy of colonialism and shame and generation addictions etc. etc. that has contributed to this very complicated problem, but at what point do people need to be accountable for the resources entrusted to them?

This very same week, I've been conscious to mark World AIDS Day. For me this year, it's been marred by frustration at the gutting of the Global Fund due to national governments' unwillingness to live up to their financial commitments in the face of global economic meltdown. Such ironic timing. Yet at the same time, I found myself surrounded by friends and neighbours who are passionately choosing to act -- to give, to pray, to protest -- and I'm witnessing God at work in the midst of it all. It occurred to me that in many developing countries ravaged by HIV/AIDS, if external money is given, much of it unfortunatley gets siphoned off to benefit the very wealthy. Interesting that in Canada "developing world," waste seems to be more of a problem than padding individual coffers. Both can have devastating consequences.

Also this week, I received a message from my friend Lawrence. He's been on my mind this week because he and his kids are performing in a play that I'd love to see, but can't -- so I'm sending two of my kids in my place. Lawrence is just back from Australia. He drew my attention to an organization called Khoorie Heritage Trust -- an organization seeking to "bridge the cultural gap" between Aboriginal people and others living in southeastern Australia -- a country with a history of relations with its Aboriginal people not unlike our own.

It's international week here at Just Giving It, so this timing seemed too right. I admit it's an uncomfortable choice for me this week. This seems like a creative and dynamic organization doing much-needed work, and I trust Lawrence's judgement. Yet I feel conflicted about giving to international Aboriginal support without giving to that same cause here at home, about whether I would choose to give here at home in that way, and about whether this week's donation should be going to AIDS programming instead (even though we've highlighted Bracelet of Hope in the past, which is what I have on my heart this week).

So there it is. Never sure if I've made the right choice, but knowing it's not a wrong one, and trying to watch carefully how the various threads are being knit together in my thought and life.

Thanks for joining me on the journey. May Advent bring new birth in and around you.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Giving Away Christmas

Yesterday was just too full to blog, so this morning I'm catching up on two weeks' worth, combining both inspiring people and suggestions made by others. I knew you all wouldn't let me draw a blank two weeks in a row!

One donation is going to my 15-year-old friend Cassidy. I'm bending the rules a bit, because I don't usually repeat gifts, but we haven't given to WV's Gift Catalogue here before (I love this amazingly successful vehicle to engage people in international giving!) and I absolutely want to support this kind of initiative and compassion in a teenager. Here's some of what Cassidy wrote to me:

For the Christmas season World Vision organizes an extra program where you can buy chickens, goats and other essentials needed in the developing world. Contaminated water is one of the leading killers of children in impoverished villages . For 15,000 dollars we can dig a well producing clean water to cook, drink and bathe in. We can be a hero to hundreds.

Using a program on the World Vision web page I have made a section directly connected to the main page where supporters can donate online. I have contacted a radio station called Shine fm and I am currently waiting for a reply to see if it is possible for them to publicize it more in the city of Calgary.

I am planning on going out to canvas Redwood Meadows several times before December 31st (which is the deadline for supporters to donate)  to raise awareness and to see who is interested to donate either at the door or online.

I sincerely hope you will support this idea

The second donation is going to my long-time friend Paul and his family. They are "Giving Christmas Away" this year, travelling with eight other families to Guadalajara, Mexico, as Paul says, "to take a step back from commercialism...serve the poor and learn from either other."

I rather guiltily spent a lot of money on Christmas gifts at Canadian Black Friday sales yesterday. It feels very very good for me to support these folks and to be inspired by them this morning.

As my friend Jennifer often says, "Be blessed and be a blessing!"